Sunday Scriptures

How to Overcome Factionalism Today

By Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz

First century Corinth was a complicated city, and the same can be said of 21st century Brooklyn and Queens!

What relevance might a letter written to followers of Jesus in Corinth almost 2,000 years ago still have for Christians today?

To answer that question about Saint Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians, let’s consider some of the challenges that church was facing.

Paul begins by taking on the factionalism that afflicted the community: “I urge you…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you…that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).

Paul doesn’t tiptoe around the trouble as he confronts this corrosive development: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13)

Reading further, we discover that factionalism wasn’t the Corinthians’ only problem. Paul levels with them: “I do not praise the fact that your meetings are doing more harm than good … I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you … When you meet in one place … it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.

“Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed? What can I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I do not praise you” (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).

Adding to the scandal of factionalism was the class rivalry and economic inequality that made a mockery of the Lord’s Supper. To us, the menu at a first century Eucharist might resemble a parish potluck supper more than anything else.

That’s because they celebrated in the setting of a full meal, as was the case at the Last Supper. What was happening in Corinth was hardly the inclusive and welcoming “here comes everybody” gathering of believers united in Christ it should have been, with no regard for socioeconomic class or place of origin!

That snapshot provides us with what’s behind this Sunday’s reading from Paul’s Corinthian correspondence:

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord.”

Paul doesn’t call for the Corinthians to ignore real differences among them, nor does he insist that they erase these distinctions in the name of enforced uniformity.

No, instead, he urges them to recognize that “there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”

Difference, Paul insists, need not lead to disunity. That is as true in Brooklyn and Queens today as it was in ancient Corinth.

Together may we devote our many gifts to the service of Christ, recognizing the countless ways that God’s Spirit is at work among us.

Readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah: 62: 1-5

1 Corinthians: 12: 4-11

John: 2: 1-11

Father Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica.